LIVE ISSUE/PLANNING: Will strategic planning shops succeed? Clients are splitting their media functions between agencies. By Anna Griffiths

Strategic planning agencies such as Unity and Michaelides & Bednash must be rubbing their hands with glee as yet another client decides to split its strategic media planning from its buying.

Strategic planning agencies such as Unity and Michaelides & Bednash

must be rubbing their hands with glee as yet another client decides to

split its strategic media planning from its buying.



Last week, the decision to farm out media planning to a specialist

agency came from Carphone Warehouse, an advertiser not best known for

its sophisticated campaigns, but one that believes in making more impact

as its advertising budget grows (Campaign, 10 April).



Carphone Warehouse has followed BT and National Savings which have drawn

up pitch-lists that differentiate media planning and buying.



The cynics who dismissed the birth of M&B in September 1994 as expensive

puffery must be eating their words, as more and more agencies are

spinning off or branding planning units in order to emphasise their

strategic capabilities. Last month, Media-polis launched its own

strategic media operation, Catalyst, while the Media Business,

traditionally seen as a conservative outfit, decided at the beginning of

this year to brand its strategic media arm, Real World Planning.

Universal McCann branded its strategic unit Universal Knowledge in

December, and Unity, which sprang up last June, has already found its

way on to the biggest pitch so far this year, BT’s pounds 150 million

media review. This has to be more than a passing phase.



Derek Morris, a founding partner of Unity, says: ’It’s proof of our

proposition, but can they (media strategy spin-offs from buying

agencies) be effective?



Of course, it depends on the talent within the companies. The advantage

we have is independence. We are independent of the buying agency and

therefore there is no vested interest. It’s more difficult for the

full-service media agency if it plans something the buying side doesn’t

want to produce.’



Morris adds: ’We design the solution and then get the buyer to carry it

through. It’s about empowering the client to understand better and

choose how he makes the media work.’



Unity and M&B fly in the face of consolidated organisations such as the

WPP media operation, MindShare, which trades on its ability to offer a

fully integrated media package. Mandy Pooler, MindShare’s managing

director, says: ’We are turning something fundamental into gobbledegook.

It’s not good to unbundle when everything is pointing towards media

integration. I find it entertaining that clients are willing to pay

extra for something I see as part of a basic service.’



There is a danger that some clients may translate the phenomenon of

unbundling media as the dumbing down of media buying, which is

unrealistic in an age of media fragmentation.



Pooler says: ’Buying is getting smarter. It’s insulting to buyers

because it implies they don’t bring to the party valuable insights that

move the business on. Strategic shops may be architects who can produce

a lovely ceiling, but it’s floating around without pillars.’



For agencies such as Zenith Media, the devaluing of buying could have a

serious impact on status.



Simon Marquis, Zenith’s new managing director who has been brought in to

sharpen up the agency’s strategic planning, argues no aspect of the

media operation can afford to dumb down. ’Buying has become

sophisticated,’ he says.



BT’s shortlist for its strategic planning account comprises a broad

cross-section of media agencies. Unity’s three-man team is competing

against the biggest media agency, Zenith, the strong planning

credentials of New PHD and MGM and the dependable MediaCom. Sholto

Douglas-Home, head of BT advertising, residential division, says: ’It’s

important to have an independent view of the changing media environment

and have strategists who understand media, not just the commercial side

of the business, and can translate commercial objectives into media

initiatives.’



Charles Dunstone, managing director of Carphone Warehouse, says he

siphoned off media planning because he wanted an objective view of the

company’s advertising policy. ’We’re an introspective organisation, and

quite insecure in our decision-making, so we must always be thinking

about how we can do things better.’



For Douglas-Home, concern that the advertising process will become even

more removed from media buying, by dividing it between a number of

agencies, is not an issue. Strong in-house media planning at BT helps

co-ordinate and police the advertising process. Dunstone says: ’We pay

for specialists in different areas - this is just another area where we

have a specialist working for us. We’re not a complicated organisation,

so it’s still quite intimate in the way we work.’



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